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Department of Plant Sciences


The Henderson group investigates plant genome structure, function, and evolution. They have a specific focus on control of meiotic recombination, understanding the mechanism of crossover formation, and what controls the distribution of recombination hotspots and cold regions, including the role of chromatin and epigenetic information. Recombination has a profound effect on patterns of natural genetic variation, and we further interested in how sequence polymorphism itself can feedback onto recombination. As meiotic crossover is a powerful tool used during crop breeding, we are investigating the design of new technologies that allow the level and location of recombination to be precisely controlled using tethering strategies.

In addition to recombination, we are actively investigating the structure and epigenetic regulation of centromeres, which are regions of the chromosome required for segregation during cell division. Centromeres are often highly repetitive and complex, creating challenges for their study. However, the advent of long-read sequencing technologies now makes it possible to sequence and assemble centromeres for the first time. We have used long-read technologies to study the genetic and epigenetic structure of plant centromeres, and we are interested in understanding the forces that drive very rapid sequence evolution in these regions. We are also interested to explore whether understanding centromere function can facilitate the design of plant artificial chromosomes capable of maintaining themselves in vivo.

The Henderson group uses a range of model systems to explore plant genome evolution, including Arabidopsis thaliana, bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), potato (Solanum tuberosum), the green algae Chlamydomonas, and most recently, ancient oak trees (Quercus robur). We are supported by a combination of research grants and active collaborations with agro-biotech companies, including Bayer Biosciences and Solynta.

Ian is Professor of Genetics and Epigenetics in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Since 2008, his group has investigated genetic and epigenetic inheritance in plants, with a focus on meiosis. Prior to arriving in Cambridge, Ian performed post-doctoral research with Prof. Steve Jacobsen (University of California Los Angeles, USA) studying RNA-directed in DNA methylation in plants, and completed his Ph.D with Prof. Dame Caroline Dean (John Innes Centre, UK), where he investigated control of flowering-time by RNA binding proteins. He was elected a member of EMBO in 2022.

Joining the group

Contact Head of Group Professor Ian Henderson if you're interested in joining the group or finding out more about the group's research.

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